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Millennium Post

Paradise troubled

Paradise troubled
Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast (If there is a heaven on earth, it's here, it's here, it's here). Mughal Emperor Jehangir is said to have said this when he visited Kashmir in the 17th century. Cut to the 21st century and we have a very different kind of Kashmir to deal with. While its virginal beauty — the alpine forest and the pristine streams — still remain by and large intact, the socio-political milieu is polluted and vitiated beyond repair. The decades of terror and militancy in the state has instilled a deep sense of fear and alienation among the local people. It has also brought negative publicity for the state and dented its image as a peace-loving Himalayan paradise blessed with vast lakes and stunning mountains. The Dal lake boulevard looks desolate, the multi-cuisine restaurants that dotted Srinagar's marketplace are all without business and the decorated autorickshaws with passenger area completely separated to offer more privacy to the honeymooning couples are missing from the streets. There are fewer celebrations and festivals are subdued. The paradise is in a state of shock. At the core of the problem is neighbour Pakistan, which has been fomenting unrest in the state by misguiding gullible youth, giving them training and logistical support to carry out anti-India operations. To keep Pakistan's interference in Kashmir under check, India has to deploy a large number of security forces along the Line of Control and elsewhere in Kashmir. The security forces have done a commendable job both in restricting Pakistan's nefarious designs and maintaining order and normalcy at the grassroots level. The many Shikaras with fascinating names in the Dal Lake and the enchanting large gardens spread across Kashmir, more notably in Srinagar, beckon the footloose and the tourists alike. But people can't visit the Indian Shangri La like ordinary tourists, for it has not seen normalcy in a long time. The peaceful, idyllic world of the ordinary Kashmiris is destroyed by the crossfire between the militants and the security forces. The Shikara, cable car and horse rides are unimaginable when the border areas witness cross-border firing as a routine, when security forces and the students face off every now and then, and when families receive dead and injured on a daily basis. The fun, the frolic, the scent of deodar, all have lost the magic. Just to illustrate how ironical the life can be for the ordinary Kashmiris, let's take the example of Ghalib Afzal Guru and Muhammad Naveed Aalam. Both these young boys have passed their Class XII examination with distinction, Ghalib scoring 88 per cent and Naveed 77 per cent. Ghalib is the son of Afzal Guru, who was executed in 2013 following his conviction in 2001 Parliament attack case. Naveed's elder brother Burhan Wani was a Hizbul Mujahedeen militant and a poster boy of Kashmir militancy. He was killed in an encounter with Indian security forces in July 2016. These two young boys have made the country proud by their stellar success despite the odds that they had deal with. The families behind these two meritorious students deserve unqualified recognition and appreciation. More recently, hours before the New Year eve, three heavily armed Jaish terrorists attacked the CRPF training camp in Awantipora. One of the three militants was identified as the 16-year-old Fardeen Ahmad Khanday, son of J&K Police constable Ghulam Mohammad Khandey. And another noteworthy youth joining the ranks of the militants is Aligarh Muslim University scholar Manan Bashir Wani, who is said to have joined Hizbul Mujahideen. Call it a quirk of fate or a fault of policymakers, the life of ordinary citizens, especially women and children, is marked with fear, anguish, and helplessness. Decades of militancy has left little for livelihood for the local people. The paradise has long forgotten the mellifluous music of the mountain; the people have lost touch with their routine of growing maize and grazing sheep. Bringing it back to normalcy requires mediation and the Centre has appointed a former Intelligence Bureau director, Dineshwar Sharma, as the official interlocutor in Jammu and Kashmir. And, in an important development, the state government has decided to allow full amnesty to local militants who have not indulged in any terror act as yet and are willing to come back home to their families. The government is also trying to engage the youth in gainful employments, sports and tourism so as to bring them back to the mainstream. Home to a wide range of holy places including the Amarnath cave and the Vaishno Devi temple, Kashmir is a shining example of India's pluralism and tenets of coexistence. From skiing to mountaineering, it offers immense possibility of adventure sports, a key revenue-generating tourism product. Ghalib and Naveed give us the hope that the future generations of the Kashmiris will regain and restore the paradise.
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